February 18th, 2011 (06:24 pm)
current location: at my PC
current mood: nostalgic
current song: street noise
Near this spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferocity,
and all the virtues of men without his vices.
This Praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human ashes,
is but a just tribute to the Memory of
BOATSWAIN, a DOG,
who was born in Newfoundland in 1803
and died at Newstead Nov. 18, 1808
I cannot say that my parents were as enamored of their offspring as they were of their pets. To say they doted on the many dogs they had over the years would probably be true. This led one observer to make the trenchant remark, "This is the only house I've been in where people are treated like dogs and dogs like people!" Which was quite true. So much so that when I first heard the phrase "a dog's life" I could not understand why it meant a wretched existence. As far as I was concerned, they had it pretty good.
One might reasonably think that as a result I would hate dogs with a passion to this day. However, that is not so. I am crazy about canis lupus familiaris. A well trained and socialized dog (like a well trained and socialized child) is a joy to behold and be with. These creatures have as varied personalities as their owners, though somewhat moderated by which breed they belong to.
In my lifetime my parents have owned cocker spaniels, miniature dachshunds, a Labrador retriever, an Irish water spaniel, a Sealyham terrier, and assorted mutts. All of which I have personally been fond of and occasionally came to love. However, one breed has a firm lock on my affections to such an extent that I could be said to be nuts over it
The easiest way to describe one is by saying, "Take a St. Bernard and paint it black.". (Even though Newfs can range in color from black to gray to brown to particolored like the above mentioned St. Bernard.) I've written about them before but the chance encounter with the entry in Wkipedia on the breed has once again made me yearn to own one or two or three.......You get the picture.
The entry in Wikipedia is a gold mine of information, from kennel club standards in the UK, Canada, and the US to famous Newfs, real and imagined. (Did you know that Nana, the children's dog in "Peter Pan" was based on J. M. Barrie's own Newf and that one real Newf serving with Canadian forces in the Pacific in WWII was given the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross.)
When I lived at home my parents had only two Newfs, Sam and Teddy. They were the opposite ends of the breeding standards.
Sam was the classic "little bear" version: GIGANTIC (as in 200+ lbs.), domed head, and bronze eyed. Sitting in a Volkswagen bug with his head through the sunroof Sam looked like the tank drivers in the Ugandan army. My track coach once stopped by and went into an absolute panic when Sam ambled up and casually put his paws on the car window sill and stuck his head in to give him a kiss. Huge as he was Sam had no desire to roam and was perfectly content to sit in the garden eating my mother's fake geraniums. Unfortunately, like many "classic" Newfs, Sam had hip dysplasia. He had to be put down before he was 18 months old.
Teddy was the polar opposite in appearance: the runt of the litter with a bum right front leg. He had a flat head, was as wide as he was tall, and barely broke 100 lbs. But beloved, OMG so very beloved! Unlike Sam, Teddy loved to roam the neighborhood. Endowed with a personality like that of a slightly sedated Labrador (all the friendliness without all the bounciness) he loved people and people loved him. From the school teachers who called my mother to come and get him from the playground before the dog catcher showed up to to the cops who periodically did show up and invited him into their patrol cars for a ride to the pound (he loved to ride in cars) to all the neighborhood children. All knew him by name and he knew them all.
Two stories about his relationship with children:
One summer afternoon my mother heard steps on the gravel driveway by the house. Not unusual. We kids came and went at all hours. What got her attention was a small voice saying, "Give it back, Teddy. Give it back." Peering out the window she saw a playful Teddy with a tiny shoe in his mouth, the owner of which was following behind. Teddy was wagging his tail and had an impish gleam in his eye as my mother came out to liberate the small boy's shoe and send him on his way home.
One early autumn afternoon my mother looked out across the street to see a girl cutting across a field on her way home from school. Coming the other other way was Teddy, on the hunt for dangerous felons and playful children (though not necessarily in that order). The girl froze, obviously unfamiliar with this large black dog. Teddy stopped just beyond her reach and flopped down on his belly, eyes fixed on the girl. Silence. Stillness. Then he wagged. Stopped. then wagged again. Stopped. The girl slowly stepped closer. He wagged again, faster than before. She came closer still. He wagged even faster. So it went until she finally gently petted him. At which his tail thumped back and forth in unalloyed happiness. But that was all. Sensitive to her fear, Teddy remained still until he knew she was no longer afraid. The encounter ended with the girl continuing her walk home and Teddy walking his beat happy in the knowledge he had made a new friend.
But more importantly to me, Teddy was my bud. I can't tell you when or how or even why, but over the years he and I grew attached to each other. In such a way that when I received word at school that Teddy had had to be put down I went into shock. I didn't cry, but I dreamed about that dog for weeks. I can't remember the dreams now but i am sure they were my way of saying goodbye to someone very dear to me.